NFFE Letter on Improving Forest Service Housing

The Hotshot Wakeup podcast last week noted this NFFE letter on Forest Service housing issues. Excerpts below.

As you know, the housing problem in the Forest Service is fundamentally about dignity. Forest Service employees deserve to have a safe, affordable, and reliable place to live but many do not. Your employees and our members have shared these acute observations on the Forest Service housing crisis that negatively impacts a sense of dignity in the workplace and impedes recruitment and retention efforts:

Employees are living in their trucks, vans, hammocks, or are “couchsurfing” while working for the Forest Service. This is most often not by choice but out of necessity.

No government housing is available to employees in some locations. Private rentals are scarce and unaffordable in many locations. There is no housing stipend now for Forest Service employees.

Existing housing is dilapidated and in dangerous disrepair. Frequent complaints include: mold, asbestos, rodent infestations, roofs caving in, exposed wires, no insulation, inoperable windows, no locks, nonfunctioning appliances, no WiFi and poor cellular phone service. Forest Service housing compares unfavorably with that in other land use agencies.

Only housing available is “males only”. No family housing or it is limited to 3year terms.

Employees make repairs themselves or pay out of pocket because the FS says there is no money.

Housing is not guaranteed. Temporary employees can lose their housing if they take a permanent
position. Employees can be kicked out of housing on short notice. For example, if the Agency has posted a vacancy announcement for a position with higher priority for housing, the current occupant must vacate. That bed will go unused until the new hire onboards.
Employees are paying market rates for substandard living facilities. Rents in government housing are high because they are based on the next closest municipality, which are often pricey tourist or college towns. Rent is not reduced when property is in disrepair.

Rents are not fairly prorated among government housing tenants. For example, if the only government housing available is designed for six occupants, but only one employee wants housing, that one employee must pay the entire rent even if no one else lives there.




In the short term, we have identified changes that the Forest Service can implement immediately to improve living conditions and aid in the recruitment of new employees. These
recommendations include:

1. Expedite repairs and upgrades for existing government housing, including adding simple amenities and new furnishings. Instruct forest supervisors to complete deferred maintenance by the end of the calendar year. Mandate that forest supervisors review and by default, approve, any reasonable request for maintenance with a priority to those repairs that impact the hygiene, health, and safety of employees.

2. Waive all rent payments from employees on government housing until issues are abated and housing is livable. Investigate via the Inspector General any private housing providers who charge market or premium rates for substandard housing, or commit any violations of federal or local health or infestation regulations.

3. Establish a housing stipend benefit and make it available to any employee who does not live in Forest Service housing.

4. Lay down more trailer pads with full hookups on Forest Service property. Expedite the purchase of campers for employees who request them and put them to immediate use.

5. Consult the Department of Interior on best practices and get their housing blueprints for permanent builds. National Park Service employees have Aframe cabins with a common room with a TV, cookhouse, shared bathroom, and private quarters.

6. Identify all sites that have been deemed “administrative site” and begin construction right away. Environmental impact assessments do not need to be completed on these sites and new construction is subject only to public comment.

7. Hire more forest engineers and facilities staff to keep up with regular upgrades and to build new buildings. Contractor construction and renovation maintenance is extremely expensive. Currently, some forests only have one person responsible for this work for the entire forest.
8. Condemn and bulldoze properties as necessary to eliminate safety risks and prepare for new permanent builds.

9. Audit the QMQM fund where money employees pay in rent is held and redistribute these funds for maintenance. Ensure each region is allocating those resources fairly between forests and is making those funds available for promptly repairing and renovating existing housing.

I’ve always felt that forest engineers are notoriously unappreciated, so I like the idea of hiring and, hopefully, appreciating them.

1 thought on “NFFE Letter on Improving Forest Service Housing”

  1. timely. having lived on a district before (and not being in the fire world) I would like to emphasize that I think this is one of the key things that gets overlooked and has impacts that ripple across resource areas and diverse geographies.

    we had to make all repairs to our heating system and wood stove, basic plumbing work, chimney maintenance, initial cleanup of rodent waste, gallons upon gallons of bleach invested there (note: all of which i’m fine doing to some degree or another, but paying out of pocket for what is supposed to be covered in rent, no thanks).

    agree with all the recommendations in the letter, i think. I’d emphasize the need to have someone manage housing and facilities as a job duty. having seen it punted around as a secondary duty i’ve also seen it ignored on that basis. no time, no money.

    can’t sit and watch wondering oh geez why do we have a recruitment and retention problem in light of things like this. you know what matters to people? their bottom lines: time, money, and decent treatment. work on that and shelve the all-talk initiatives. to riff on a poli-sci classic (cliche?): it’s about who gets what, when, and how. this ties back to the younger generational recruitment question as well. make it doable for folks to live and work in more remote places. This ties into recommendation 5 in that piece, and while i disagree in principle with some of the homogenizing effects of that recommendation (won’t spell out here), the livability aspect is indisputably huge.


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